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Full text of "My country and my people"

LITERARY    LIFE
among the important tests of literary ability. Even parents who had talented daughters to give away, and sometimes the talented girls themselves, often chose their bridegrooms on the strength of a few lines of really good poetry. Captives often regained their freedom or received extra courtesy by their ability to write two or three verses which appealed to the men in power* For poetry is regarded as the highest literary accomplishment and the surest and easiest way of testing a man's literary skill. Moreover, Chinese painting is closely connected with Chinese poetry, being akin to it, if not essentially identical with it, in spirit and technique.
To my mind, poetry has taken over the function of religion in China, in so far as religion is taken to mean a cleansing of man's soul, a feeling for the mystery and beauty of the universe, and a feeling of tenderness and compassion for one's fellowmen and the humble creatures of life. Religion cannot be, and should not be, anything except an inspiration and a living emotion. The Chinese have not found this inspiration or Hving emotion in their religions, which to them are merely decorative patches and frills covering the seamy side of life, having largely to do with sickness and death. But they have found this inspiration and living emotion in poetry-Poetry has taught the Chinese a view of life which, through the influence of proverbs and scrolls, has permeated into society in general and given them a sense of compassion, an overflowing love of nature, and an attitude of artistic acceptance of life. Through its feeling for nature it has often healed the wounds in their souls, and through its lesson of enjoyment of the simple life it has kept a sane ideal for the Chinese civilization. Sometimes it appeals to their romanticism and gives them a vicarious emotional uplift from the humdrum workaday world, and sometimes it appeals to their feeling of sadness, resignation and restraint, and cleanses the heart through the artistic reflection of sorrow. It teaches them to listen with enjoyment to the sound of raindrops on banana leaves, to admire the chimney smoke of cottages rising and mingling with the evening clouds nestling on a hillside, to be tender toward the white lilies on the country path, and to hear in the song of the cuckoo the longing of a traveller for his mother at home, it gives them a kind